“The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” (c. 1601-02) by Italian master Baroque artist Caravaggio. Photo from Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: God has given us a haunting challenge

  • April 5, 2024

Second Sunday of Easter (Year B) , April 7 (Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31)

“There was not a needy person among them” — this was the source of their unity and their strength. They were of one heart and soul.

The first believers were not drones or copies of one another and their individual charisms and quirks remained. In the essential things — their faith in Jesus and their embracing of his teachings — they were in complete (almost!) harmony. Of course, they were a small community, and they expected the imminent return of Jesus and the transformation of the world.

That is not our situation today, so we cannot simply cut and paste the response of the first believers into the 21st century. But we do not get off so easily, for the principle that was behind this practice can certainly be  applied in our times.

There is only one world, one God and one humanity. The notion of separateness — from one another, from creation, and from God — is a disastrous illusion on our part and is responsible for much of the chaos and misery of our world. The first believers were trying to create —on a small scale — the unity of the first humans.

There are huge disparities of wealth today, both in financial terms and in resources. A small portion of humanity has grown extraordinarily rich and powerful on the backs of the many. This includes individuals, governments and corporations.

Far more serious than that is the scarcity of basic needs — education, medical care and housing — for many people. We have the resources to deliver these things to people, but we lack the commitment and the will. Societies, churches and nations are judged by their treatment of the poorest, the weakest and the most vulnerable. Possessiveness, greed and selfishness are corrosive and deadly. “There was not a needy person among them” is a haunting challenge that God gives us. Fortunately, Jesus left us an example of selfless and loving service to follow.

John gives his own meaning to words that we use in everyday speech. In his lexicon, “to believe” in Jesus means losing oneself completely in Him, thinking, feeling and acting as Jesus did.

It is far more than an idea or a doctrine that one fixes in the mind — it is a whole new mode of existence. Only then can we claim to be born of God. The proof of these claims will be in how well we keep God’s commandments. As a bonus, when we follow the Lord’s commandments of love and humble service, we will conquer the world, just as He did.

When hearts have been broken and hopes crushed it is extremely difficult to restore people to wholeness. The sudden appearance of Jesus in the upper room did just that for the apostles. His greeting to them said it all — “Shalom” —peace, wholeness and health. His “shalom” was not just a greeting, but a blessing and a gift.

Just to ensure they believed it was truly Jesus, He showed them the nail holes in His hands and the wound in His side. Then he breathed on them, filling them with the Spirit of God and empowering them to carry on His mission. Thomas was absent and he refused to believe what the apostles related to him. He wanted solid proof and demanded to touch the wounds of Christ.

Jesus obliged Thomas a week later — he appeared again and invited Thomas to touch the wounds. That was enough —Thomas exclaimed “my Lord and my God!” Thomas was totally convinced that it was Jesus. But the Lord cautioned all of them — it was fine to have concrete proof, but is that really faith?

He spoke to the millions of believers who would come after the apostles. They were not privileged to see or experience Jesus in the same way as the apostles, but they were by no means less as believers and followers. In fact, it requires far more trust and generosity of heart and soul to make the leap of faith. One has to brush aside cultures and voices that sneer at faith or respond with boredom and that is not easy.

Our personal experiences of the risen Lord and the experiences of others are vibrant and convincing proof. We too can respond, “My Lord and my God!”